camper boondocking

Boondocking 101: How to Camp for Free and Avoid the Crowds

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State and national parks are being overrun, private RV parks are booked weeks or months in advance. Not to mention the jacked-up campground prices we’ve seen so far this summer. Add in all the irresponsible campers and it’s enough to make any RVer want to scream in frustration. 

If you’re sick of it all, don’t give up RVing. There is another option, although it will require a bit more work on your end. The secret is boondocking. 

What is Boondocking

For those of you who don’t know, boondocking simply means you are camping for free, typically on public lands. Vast swaths of the country belong to the public, which means you have the right to use these lands. Including for camping! (There are local restrictions you need to follow. You can’t just camp anywhere but more on that later). 

Boondocking means you won’t have any hookups or trash removal so you’ll need to prepare. Keep reading for the basics of what you’ll need to get ready for your first off-grid RV camping experience.

How Do I Get Power While Boondocking?

There are basically three options for getting power while boondocking. You can use an onboard gas-powered generator if you have one of the campers with generators that are out there. You can also use a portable RV generator or you can use solar power. For people who plan to boondock regularly, solar power is definitely the way to go. 

Understanding and using solar power in an RV will allow you to stay off-grid longer compared to a gas-powered generator (unless of course there is no sun). It is also more cost-effective in the long run. While the initial expenses can be quite steep, if you boondock regularly, you’ll save a ton of money on camping in the long run. 

What Do I Do About Water?

No hookups means no water. Most RVs come with freshwater, greywater, and blackwater tanks. There are some smaller trailers that may not have these features. If you are used to full hookup sites, chances are you have everything you need to boondock in terms of water. 

When boondocking, it is important to conserve water. It is easy to go through freshwater quickly. Your tank will supply you with water for drinking, doing the dishes, flushing the toilet, everything. 

Many regular boondockers opt to convert to a composting toilet. This upgrade benefits boondockers in a couple of ways. First, it conserves freshwater, and second, it allows for more greywater storage space (since you can convert your black tank to an additional grey tank). It also helps cut down on odor, which is a wonderful added bonus if you want to avoid that delicious black tank stench. 

Using baby wipes to wipe off is also a good way to conserve water since it isn’t really realistic to shower every day when you’re boondocking for an extended period. Gross but true.

Trash Storage Must-Haves 

When you camp at an RV park, you can take a stroll to the nearest dumpster to toss your trash whenever you need to. Not having neighbors has lots of perks. However, it also means you’ll need to have a way to manage your trash. 

Also Read:  The RV Departure Checklist Every New RVer Needs to Ensure a Smooth Ride

Minimizing trash generation is a good place to start. This is good practice in general because who doesn’t want to save the earth. You can also cut down on trash by composting food waste in a small compost bin inside your RV. 

It is also necessary to have a way to store your trash. You can’t simply stick it outside unless you want every woodland creature around to come for a visit. A heavy-duty trash bag inside a locking storage bin on the top of your rig is the most common method. 

trash bags outside
Don’t do this while you are boondocking!

Where Can I Boondock?

There are rules about where you can and cannot boondock. Your best bet is Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, state or national forests, or other public lands. Some of the best resources for finding places to boondock are Campendium and Free

If you are interested in a membership program, for a low annual fee, you can join Boondockers Welcome. Boondockers welcome connects you with private landowners who will let you stay on your land for free. It just goes to show how outstanding the RV community can be! 

Another option is a Harvest Hosts membership, which allows you to overnight at places like wineries, breweries, and farms. There is some expectation of a small purchase in appreciation for a free place to stay, but you can end up with some great stuff you’ll enjoy anyway.

How Long Can I Stay?

Most public lands allow stays of up to 14 days before you must move to a new campsite. There are some differences depending on where you are though, so check local regulations before you arrive. The length of stay will vary for sites on Boondockers Welcome. However, they are typically much shorter than when you stay on public land. 

A Note About Scouting Out Your Site

If you have a larger rig, it is wise to scout out sites in advance. You can do this by reading reviews from other campers and looking on Google Satellite. Once you arrive at a suitable location, it is still smart to check it out before driving your rig to the destination. 

Scouting can help you avoid getting stuck on rutted-out roads or unable to turn around in tight spaces if your rig won’t fit (or if all spaces are occupied when you arrive). 

What other Boondocking Questions do You Have?

This article is just an intro to boondocking. There is definitely a learning curve to off-grid living, but that’s what we’re here for. 

  • What questions do you still have about boondocking?

  • Drop a picture of your best boondocking spot (even if you won’t share its whereabouts). 

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Kathryn Mancewicz

Kathryn Mancewicz is an RV expert who has been a full time RVer since 2019. She has bylines for her RV related content on major publications including MSN, MSN Canada, and AOL. She has also been featured on Yahoo and quoted on KOA. Kathryn is also a regular RV content writer for Cheapism.